By Anita Zusmann Eddy
Special to the TJP
Close to 30 Jewish community leaders met with the two new Bishops of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas on Monday, May 8, at a meeting organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), held at the Jewish Federation.
This was the first official meeting between the new bishops, the Most Reverend Edward J. Burns and the Most Reverend Gregory Kelly, and Dallas Jewish community leadership. Bishop Edward Burns was appointed by Pope Francis as the Dallas Bishop in December 2016, replacing Bishop Kevin Farrell, who moved to the Vatican, Rome, after being elevated to Cardinal earlier last year. Bishop Gregory Kelly was ordained as the Auxiliary Bishop in February 2016, replacing Bishop Doug Deshotel, who moved to Louisiana as Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette.
The Catholic Diocese of Dallas and the Dallas Jewish community have a longstanding positive working relationship, based on mutual interests and involvement in issues of concern to both communities. Along with the JCRC, the Diocese is a founding member of the Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas, which works to find solutions to multi-generational poverty in Dallas. The Diocese is also a generous supporter of the Dallas Holocaust Museum, and has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Museum over the past years.
Participants at the meeting included Rabbi Heidi Coretz (SMU Hillel and Congregation Shir Tikvah), Rabbi Michael Kushnick (Congregation Anshai Torah), Rabbi Daniel Pressman (Congregation Shearith Israel), Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky (Congregation Shaare Tefilla), Rabbi Dan Utley (Temple Emanu-El), Rabbi Howard Wolk (JFS Community Rabbi) and Rabbi Shawn Zell (Tiferet Israel). Attendees also included leadership from Congregation Beth Torah, Adat Chaverim, Jewish Family Service, The Legacy, NCJW, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Federation and the JCRC.
After opening remarks by Federation Board Chair Dan Prescott and JCRC Chair Melanie Rubin, attendees each introduced themselves and provided a brief description of their affiliated agency or organization, in order to provide the bishops with some information and understanding of the Jewish organizations serving our Dallas Metro community. It was noted that most of our Jewish social services organizations provide support to the general (non-Jewish) community as well as to Jewish clientele.
Bishop Burns noted how honored he was to be invited to meet and dialogue, sharing that his association with the Jewish community started when he was employed at a local synagogue during his teenage years in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In his remarks, he stated that he “considers it a joy to work with the Jewish community and looks forward to working with the community in Dallas.” He noted that he has moved from the smallest Diocese in the nation, in Juneau, Alaska, which serves 12,500 Catholics, to one of the largest U.S. Dioceses, where as Bishop he cares for “1.3 million souls,” and leads 118 priests. Prior to living in Juneau, Bishop Burns was a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Kelly has lived in Dallas Diocese for more than 40 years and served in several different positions at the Diocese before being ordained as Auxiliary Bishop in February 2016. Bishop Kelly also stressed his longstanding connections to the Jewish community, noting that he learned much about “the complexity and beauty of the Jewish community” from the novels of Chaim Potok, among other sources.
Discussion during the meeting focused on a variety of topics. Megan Hyman, a leader in the Jewish Federation’s Young Adult Division, asked the bishops about their strategies for reaching out to and engaging Catholic young adults. Bishop Burns related that the Pope has requested a Synod to be held in 2018 to discuss youth, faith and priestly duties to keep young people engaged. He noted that the Pope has specifically requested feedback from non-Catholic youth as valuable input. There was also discussion about the rise of anti-Semitism nationally, and the role that the Church could play in educating young people and community members about how to oppose anti-Semitism and general bullying practices.
Both bishops noted the need and importance of vigorously combating anti-Semitism, and expressed support for the Jewish community in efforts to educate about and fight anti-Semitism. Bishop Burns ended the session by sharing a story about his visit to Auschwitz where he used his cell phone to photograph a commemorative plaque. He related that his cell phone camera automatically focused on the individuals depicted on the plaque, highlighting their faces in the photo.
He noted that “if a cell phone can recognize the humanity in each individual’s face, how as people can we not recognize the humanity in each of us?”